EAST LANSING, Mich. — Dominate (verb): have a commanding influence on; exercise control over. To use the word in a sentence, Michigan State dominated Lake Superior State on its way to a 6-0 victory Saturday night at Munn Ice Arena.
It was an all around team effort from MSU that helped the Spartans complete their first sweep at home since November 2015. Just as impressive as the offensive explosion, the defense played a key role in helping to give goaltender John Lethemon his first career shutout.
“They were outstanding,” coach Danton Cole said of his defense. “Their gaps were good. They were a lot better with the puck. The forwards did a really nice job pressing back, forechecking and being on top of pucks. I think confidence wise for that group, they’re coming. You can learn a lot winning or losing, but it’s a lot more fun winning.”
Through the opening 20 minutes, LSSU registered seven shots on goal. It finished with 15 total in the game while only getting one in the second period.
Other than the two teams trading power play chances, the first period was rather unentertaining. The Spartans rattled off eight shots on Laker goaltender Mareks Mitens while Jon Lethemon corralled all seven LSSU shots sent into his crease.
Throughout the season thus far, the Spartan first line has really made their presence known on the ice. Patrick Khodorenko (4G, 3A), Taro Hirose (2G, 7A) and Mitchell Lewandowski (3G, 6A) account for the top three leading scorers donning the Green and White. Their dominance continued Saturday night on the power play when a point shot from Hirose took a fortuitous bounce to the stick off Lewandowski, who tucked in the rebound to put the Spartans on top 1-0.
“I think it’s really important and special for us,” Lewandowski said as he commented on the KHL lines dominance. “We don’t think about it, we just try to go out there and play and it’s really been working for us. Patty and Taro are world-class players and I’m just fortunate enough to play alongside them.”
Michigan State broke open the scoring and then some in the second period as it rallied off four goals and took a commanding 5-0 lead. Brennan Sanford and Mitch Elliot both netted their first goal of the season less than two minutes apart, while Jake Smith rifled home his second goal in as many games. The freshman forward capitalized on a two-on-one with Gianluca Esteves. Mitens was able to make the initial save on Esteves but could not haul in the rebound that put the Spartans 4-0.
MSU kept pouring it on and with less than 30 seconds to play in the period, Lewandowski added his second power play goal of the night to extend the Spartan lead to five. A shot from the slot by Cody Milan ricocheted off the glass behind Mitens and back out into the Spartan offensive zone. Lewandowski, using his superb hand-eye coordination skills, batted the puck out of mid-air and into the back of the net.
“I watched a world series game last night so I guessed I picked up on something.” Lewandowski said.
With his two goals on the night, Lewandowski’s total for the year rises to three and is now the sole leader in points with nine.
The Spartan attack chased Mitens from the net and the Lakers went with junior Nick Kossoff to start the third period. The goalie change didn’t seem to rattle Michigan State at all as it added another power play goal. This time it was David Keefer, who sniped a shot over the shoulder of Kossoff for his first as a Spartan.
It’s clear that this young Michigan State team is buying into whatever coach Cole is selling. The Spartans now sit at 4-2 on the season, just three wins shy of their total from last year. The passes are short and succinct, the team is getting production from up and down the entire lineup and above all else, the team’s confidence is gleaming.
“You can’t get anything done if nobody believes in what you’re doing,” Cole said. “Right from the beginning we talked to the guys and we said ‘you know, you’ve got a lot to prove to us but we’ve also got a lot to prove to you as a staff’ and that’s fair. We have to be doing our work and we have to be held accountable just like they do. Right now we’ve put ourselves in a good spot.”
Michigan State will start Big Ten play next weekend with a tough road test as it travels to Minneapolis for a weekend series with Minnesota. Game 1, which can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit Plus, is scheduled in for a 8 p.m. start. Puck drop for Game 2 will be Saturday at 5 p.m.